The young but booming bike sharing movement debuts in the Bay Area on Thursday. The pilot project lets the public borrow bicycles for short trips in San Francisco, San Jose and three other Peninsula cities.
Starting out with 700 bikes at 70 stations, the new grant-funded service offers a new way to get around -- especially to travel a mile or two getting to or from transit stations like BART.
Effective Thursday, members who pay $88 for a year or $9 per day for an electronic key can check out a bike at one station and leave it at another. To encourage short trips, bike use is free for 30 minutes or less, while overtime fees can add up to $150 per day.
Sponsors say the one- to two-year pilot project is just the start of a much bigger program in more communities.
During that time, Bay Area transportation planners hope to figure out many practical and political details of the program. Among them: where and how many bike stations to create, how to ensure bikes are in the right place at right times, and what body will oversee the program.
"I see us as just getting started with bike share in the Bay Area," said Amy Worth, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and an Orinda City Council member. "We expect to learn a lot about the logistics before we to expand it to other places, including the East Bay."
MTC is one of the eight agencies that pulled together $7 million in grants to plan the system and hire a bike share specialist -- Alta Bike Share Inc.-- to run it. An expansion from 700 to 1,000 bikes is expected later this year.
"This is the first regional bike system in the nation to be built from the ground up," said Karen Schkolnick, a grant and incentives manager with Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
Most bike share systems focus on single cities, like those in Chicago, Denver, New York, and Boston, or a few adjacent cities.
The Bay Area system begins along the Caltrain corridor in San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City.
Worth and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty of Dublin said they expect the program to consider expansion elsewhere. including the East Bay. Likely sites, they said, include Berkeley and Oakland, areas near BART stations, and employment centers like Bishop Ranch in San Ramon and the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton.
"I frankly am very frustrated that it has taken us this long to get started," said Haggerty.
Bike share programs are popping up nationwide as a cheap way to move people, cut congestion and pollution, and improve public health and fitness.
Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center, said bike sharing took off in the past four years partly because advances in electronic keys and cards makes it possible to prevent thefts and track bikes so they can be moved about to meet demand.
There is no single bike share system model, said Shaheen, a civil and environmental engineering professor.
In Tulsa, Okla., the St. Francis Health System runs a recreational bike share program along the Tulsa River to encourage fitness.
Some share services, like Boston's, are overseen by a city or government agency.
Others, like Denver's, are run by nonprofit boards with government representatives.
Directors of both the Denver and Boston programs say it's important to begin in areas with sufficiently dense development to locate stations within a few hundred yards of each other.
Close stations makes it easier for riders to take and return bikes near trip start and end points.
"You don't want stations in isolated islands," said Nick Bohnenkamp, interim director of Denver's program.
Yet programs should be flexible enough to serve a diverse population, he said.
A survey last year found Denver's bikes are each used two to three times a day, but that 90 percent of users are white. Operators are seeking ways to serve more blacks and Latinos.
Nicole Freedman, director of Boston's program, said private support has helped.
"We have a strong advertising and sponsorship program that allows us to expand," said Freedman, an Olympic cyclist who studied urban planning at Stanford.
New York began a system earlier this year in Manhattan and Brooklyn, that sees each bike used six to seven times a day. It began despite amid complaints that software problems made it hard to check out and check in bikes.
Shaheen, however, said there are reliable technologies available. "I think bike share programs are here to stay and expand."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.
What is it: Bike sharing offers a network of durable bikes to be borrowed or rented by members to get an electronic key to checkout bikes at docking stations.
Details: Visit www.bayareabikeshare.com/
Stations: The first 70 stations to open for service Thursday are in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Redwood City
Station locations: Visit www.bayareabikeshare.com/stations
Price: Membership costs $88 for a year, $22 for three days, or $9 per day. Members can borrow a bike for free for up to 30 minutes. After that, users pay $4 for an extra half-hour. A full day use can cost up to $150.
Who can join: People 18 and older with a credit card.
Who runs it: Several agencies teamed up to begin the pilot project, including Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SamTrans, Caltrain, San Mateo County, Redwood City and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
The bikes: Forty-four pound, seven-speed bikes that can go up moderate hills and navigate road bumps.